13 of ’19: Werner Cafe

This is the seventh of a 19 part list of my favorite things about 2019. There are books and movies and artists and albums and places and experiences. Making the list has been a helpful way of looking back and taking stock of my year. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important items. No doubt in 20 years I’ll look back at several things on the list and ask, “Huh?” But this is an attempt at this moment in time to remember…

So how’s this for a turn of events? I wrote my top 19 of ’19 list a week ago, and went ahead and wrote the first few so that I could just click “publish” periodically while traveling. But now I’m caught up and writing the rest in real time, hopefully making my self-imposed January 1 deadline to get them all finished. So after church at Salemi Kirik and lunch at Jacobi Jalats, I walked to Werner Cafe to continue writing the countdown. I purchased my coffee and pastry, sat down, opened up my laptop to look at my list. Next up? Werner Cafe. If Dabo Swinney was sitting here in this situation he might call it “the favor of God.” And if I were sitting in any other place, I would probably cynically disagree with him. But I’ve had too many Werner Cafe pastries, cakes, pies, and cups of coffee over the past couple of years to rule out divine favor as a factor in anything associated with Werner.

I had been to Estonia three times before ever stepping foot in Werner. It is 120 years old, and centrally located, but not out in the open like many other places. You have to walk behind the city center and down a back street at the base of Toome Hill that leads to the university in order to find it. And like most other places here in Tartu, there is no bright, flashing sign that will point it out to you, but there should be. In fact, there should be city employees waiting at the city limit lines whose job is to escort first time visitors immediately to Werner.

The place is dimly lit, but bright enough to read and write, which many people do. There’s also a fair amount of tourists, but the locals dominate, led by those who appear to be philosophers and historians and poets and authors. (I’m sure I’m overgeneralizing and stereotyping here, but don’t mess with my mythology.)

There’s a restaurant upstairs, and I hear it is quite good, but I’ve never been there. When you see the bake case full of treats, it seems like a waste of time to expend the energy to walk the steps just to get a little protein, no matter how gourmet it is. As might be expected, because it is true in just about every other area of life, Estonian sweets don’t reach out and punch you in the gut with sweetness and heaviness like their American counterparts do, (I’m looking at you, my dearest Lula Janes chocolate chip cookies.) Estonians have mastered the art of subtlety and understatement with their confections, much like their voices and culture.

I would like to close this out by saying “I’ve got to go so I can finish this chocolate covered sweet roll,” but I don’t want to lie to you. It was finished by the second sentence, and now I’m researching weeklong gym memberships to buy me some more calories. I’ve got my eye on the raspberry cheesecake.

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